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A young girl in a pink jacket faces a tall dun horse and pets him on the nose.

On a Lark, first touches with Liliana.

"Currently, there are more than 50,000 mustangs in short-term holding waiting for homes. In 2018, approximately 600 horses were rounded up by helicopter in Warm Springs, Oregon, and shipped to holding facilities across the United States. They were branded by the Bureau of Land Management and placed up for adoption. 

In the spring of 2020, one of these horses, a beautiful dun, was selected to be my next horse. He had been passed over at three different adoption events, so was considered a sales authority three-strikes mustang and purchased for $125. Standing just shy of 16 hands, this boy had been a stallion for more than six years and was gelded only a short time beforehand. He was slow to trust and sometimes showed his fear by rearing and pulling away. 

With the help of my daughter, we worked with him daily. Soon his apprehension turned to courage and he eagerly awaited us to feed him each day. He started recognizing our car and would trot over to the gate as soon as we arrived. Feeding turned to patting, patting turned to grooming, grooming turned to wearing tack, and within a few weeks we were riding him. 

The change in his demeanor was nothing short of miraculous. Gone was the tentative horse and a strong, self-assured horse stood before us. He had the most loving and sweet nature of any horse, domestic or wild, that we had ever been around. All he wanted to do was please us and eat. By August 2020, he would jump small jump courses and canter around quietly without complaint if I asked him to, but I could feel that his heart just wasn't into the fast pace of jumping. 

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When a friend posted that a local therapeutic riding program [Dream Riders] was looking for horses, my soul knew it was to be him. Was it crazy for a freshly broke mustang that had been a band leader and stallion for several years to become a therapy horse? All my years of horse ownership told me yes, this was crazy, but in my heart I knew this was the perfect fit for him. 

We decided to let him have a 90-day trial at the therapy barn, with me keeping him in training in case it didn't work out. He had full immersion in all things therapy with bouncy balls, pool noodles, ramps, and even a mechanical crane that lifted individuals in wheelchairs onto the horses. Nothing phased this boy. He was steady and intuitive, feeling when to slow down for an unbalanced rider, wait a bit longer for an impaired rider to mount, and patiently stand for exuberant children hugging him. As a bonus, his movement was different than other horses in the program and within the first couple months the stories started to flow. 

A young boy who had been receiving physical therapy with the program for more than a year had the opportunity to ride him. Soon, he was able to walk up the stairs and across the balance beam on his own, a brand new accomplishment that left his mother and the therapists in tears. 

From a never-touched, mustang stallion to a cherished therapy horse in less than six months is a miracle in itself, and for that we will always remember to listen to the whispers of the horse and the heart." —Amy V. 

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